Second Brown Bag of the Semester – September 12, 2014

 

John Walsh, Senior Lecturer, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Expanded and Virtual Cinematography: Changing Roles in Production

Abstract: Motion picture production’s transition from mechanical to computer-based technology has transformed production, where processes of pre-visualization and virtual cinematography blur the lines between traditional cinematography and visual effects.  I’ll share my summer experience studying with a group of leading cinematographers who embrace virtual technologies and have redefined their practice expanded cinematography.  Their work poses compelling questions for the next generation of production students, and the Media School.

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Alfred Kinsey… Detective and Media Professor?

By Mona Malacane

It’s a real life game of Clue. A night of murder, mystery, and dinner fit for our department’s most theatrically talented individual, Mike McGregor. Earlier this year, Mike attended an annual murder mystery dinner fundraiser hosted by The Friends of TC Steele. The mystery incorporated local historical figures, such as Dr. Alfred Kinsey, some of Dr. Kinsey’s staff, Hoagy Carmichael, and Herman Wells. Set in the 1950s, the premise of the script is that President Herman Wells invited a group of friends to dinner to “discuss the work of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and to generate financial and political support for his work,” Mike explained. But after the hors d’oeuvres, the night takes a turn … and the dinner guests are treated to an evening of live music, food, beverages, and a murder to solve.

whodunit

Mike played the part of Dr. Kinsey, a character he was already familiar with and somewhat familiar to … (see the pictures below). Because Dr. Kinsey plays a rather large role in the evening’s events, Mike and others who played the key roles were given their scripts before the dinner; those who wanted to play smaller roles were given cue cards at their seats that had conversation starters for table talk. “For example, among Kinsey’s staff there was a lot of partner sharing … So that became the fodder of the table talk. All sorts of reasons for a potential murder.” From that point on, everyone stayed in character for the remainder of the evening.

Don't they look a lot alike??

Don’t they look a lot alike??

So the night begins with a catered meal, Hoagy Carmichael at the piano, and a welcome introduction from President Wells. He is followed by a speech by Dr. Kinsey who starts to introduce his staff but realizes that one of them, Clyde Martin, is missing. At this point no one is particularly concerned about Clyde’s absence so he continues on to talk about his recent publication, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. As Kinsey is being criticized and critiqued by the dean of the music school, Clyde staggers in with a gunshot wound and clutching a note from the killer. President Wells can’t reach the sheriff so Kinsey recruits the help of his dinner guests to find the killer. Until this point, everyone at the dinner knew what was going to happen from reading the script. However, after Clyde staggers in, only two people know what will happen next – one of them is Mike and the other is the murderer.

The plot thickens throughout the evening as clues arise and guests try to figure out whodunit. As they are being served dessert, the dinner guests were instructed to write on a piece of paper who they thought killed Clyde and to provide a rationale. At the end of the night, awards were given to the guest who identified the killer, and also for the best performance. The evening was “filled with drama,” twists, and a grand finale!

Mike explained that one of coolest – and unexpected – twists of the dinner was that some of the guests actually knew the figures who were being played. For example, Mrs. Kinsey was played by a woman whose mother (who was also at the dinner) was friends with the Kinseys and was interviewed for his research.

Mike's award for Best Performance

Mike’s award for Best Performance

The dinner was performed/hosted on two weekends in February and Mike won Best Performance one of those nights. John Walsh also attended one of the dinners and played one of Kinsey’s staff; he won an award for correctly naming the killer. If you’re dying to know who the murderer was, I’m sure one of them could tell you …

The Grand Telecom Tour

By Edo Steinberg

After being introduced to the faculty, staff and graduate students of the department, the incoming students started to get acquainted with the buildings and hardware available here. Senior Lecturer and facilities manager John Walsh led a tour of the Radio and Television building, while Prof. Rob Potter, director of the Institute for Communication Research, and lab manager Sharon Mayell took students to the ICR facilities on the sixth floor of Eigenmann Hall.

The tour of the Radio and Television Building started out with the production labs available to students, TV 250 and TV 157. Here, production students can edit their films or work on their games. As John pointed out, if you need cameras and other equipment, this is a good place to ask. Under certain circumstances, you’ll be able to borrow what you need for a shoot.

TV 157 Production Lab

TV 157 Production Lab

Next, the new students got a little glimpse into WTIU and WFIU, the local PBS and NPR affiliates housed in the RTV Building’s first floor.  John explained the advantages of having these stations here, with Telecom students getting many opportunities to work on professional shows meant for public broadcast, such as WTIU’s children’s show “The Friday Zone.”

WFIU radio station

WFIU radio station

Next to WTIU’s Studio 6 is our very own Studio 5. Many non-production students forget this, but this gargantuan room is used for more than just awkward introductions every year at orientation. Here, students actually learn how to make magic happen, with the help of faculty, staff and AIs. Here, students are trained to use cameras, microphones, studio controls, pulley-based lighting and other equipment.

Control 5, the control room for Studio 5.

Control 5, the control room for Studio 5.

The tour concluded on the third floor, where most faculty members’ offices are, as well and the grad lounge and computer lab. John ended the tour by emphasizing the collegiality of the department and urging students to socialize with veteran students. Other than going out at night, this can also be done by sticking around the grad computer lab, where we tend to naturally congregate.

After the RTV tour, Rob took newcomers to Eigenmann Hall, showing them the IU Auditorium and IU Cinema on the way. In the cavernous ICR facilities, he and Sharon introduced students to the various rooms available for research. There is one content analysis room, another room to conduct surveys on computers, as well as labs where subjects can be hooked up to various types of psychophysiological equipment.

Entrance to the ICR.

Entrance to the ICR.

At the end of the tour, Rob and Sharon told new students about the lab’s weekly meetings, in which students and faculty share their research and progress (or lack thereof). E-mail Sharon if you want to join the mailing list.

From last year’s experience, I know that it will take students a while to get their bearings and know where everything is. Hopefully, the tours helped them familiarize themselves with their new surroundings.

To be continued…

Music and Cameras – A Fruitful Collaboration

by Teresa Lynch

This past Friday, Studio 5 on the ground floor of the Radio-TV played host to 60 musicians from the Jacobs School of Music (JSoM), JSoM audio engineering students, and students enrolled in the T436 Multi Camera Performance Production (MCPP) course.

An MCPP student operates a camera during the orchestral performance of Bohemian Rhapsody

An MCPP student operates a camera during the orchestral performance of Bohemian Rhapsody

The reason this creative bunch descended on Studio 5? To collaboratively record a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody for orchestra – originally by Queen, but arranged and conducted by JSoM student Nick Hersh.

“[The T436 students] have spent a lot of time in the Musical Arts Center working, but not in the studio. Recording 60 musicians in Studio 5 and interfacing with an audio crew and the musicians was pretty challenging. I basically just facilitated communication and kept everything moving along,” said Matt Falk, the course’s AI.

“There’s a fun dynamic in the class because we’re working with John [Walsh] and Konrad [Strauss] from the music school and a couple of the directors from over there and all of our teaching styles and attitudes are really different. John’s a problem solver, but without being in people’s faces. Konrad is the director of the audio program and he’s really laid back. Then there’s me and I’m constantly freaking out trying to prevent mistakes,” said Matt with a laugh.

This is the first semester our department has offered this course. Dreamed up by John and Konrad, the course draws on each program’s area of expertise to create a collaborative course between Telecommunications and JSoM. “When you’re in the audio production program in Jacobs, you have to spend 80 hours a semester doing professional work like running sound to maintain your enrollment,” said Matt. “[The JSoM] has been doing these live streams of operas to the internet for a few years now – Konrad pioneered that – and it’s pretty cool, they get hundreds of thousands of viewers all around

MCPP students working diligently on the live production

MCPP students working diligently on the live production in Studio 5

the world tuning in.” The problem was that many of the positions for these live-streaming events involved camera work, assistant director, and other non-audio roles that didn’t give beneficial hands on experience for audio production students. “We have students [in Telecom] who know switching, who know camera work, who want professional experience to build their resumes and put on their demo reel. We also have advanced students who want experience directing, but don’t have opportunities. [The JSoM students] don’t want to do those parts, so the course covers these events and gives everyone more applicable opportunity,” said Matt.

The students not only do the live recordings, they also provide supplementary materials on the internet such as 3-5 minute vignettes with historical information about the productions or auxiliary content such as interviews with cast and crew of the productions. The collaboration has improved the production quality of the recorded performances making them distributable and of value to the undergraduate students’ demo reels. For Matt, the teaching experience of working with the students on a professional quality production has been invaluable. “It’s really awesome that [the Telecom department and JSoM] went out on a limb with this collaboration because it’s risky. There’s a lot of money and time invested and it’s all stamped with the JSoM brand. If something goes wrong, it’s on us as the instructors because the students are there to learn, but everyone’s really come together to make something we’re all proud of.”

Production at IU: New and Improved!

by Ken Rosenberg

Professor John Walsh shows off the revamped layout of RTV 250.

Professor John Walsh has secured new equipment for the Telecom department. It is his vision that all students to be able to produce professional-quality media: video, audio, digital games, and other forms of new media. Towards that end, John has worked with other departmental colleagues to improve upon the production gear with which we work. We now have new light kits and grip equipment; our labs are now licensed to use Unity 3, a popular new game engine; we’ve updated the audio software from ProTools 8 to ProTools 10; and the computers in RTV 250 have been rearranged to enhance collaborative learning. A few years ago, Professor Ron Osgood brought the studio into high-definition era. Now, John and others have helped move our media-creation capabilities forward yet again. For a department that has partnerships with professional media outlets, including our in-house PBS affiliate WTIU, it isn’t enough to simply have equipment fit to learn – we need to impress real audiences.

The most immediately noticeable advancement is the new equipment. The cameras in the production lab were already more than adequate for most shoots and, as John pointed out, basic video gear has become cheap enough to the point where many students come to class with their own cameras. What most people do not invest in, however, is proper lighting – and control of the light. Earlier the lab was not equipped with grip gear. Now, we have the basic complement required for shooting on set – light kits and grip equipment. Lighting and grip work are very separate tasks on set, as John explained, and the new gear will allow students to specialize. Next Fall, in the T436: Advanced Production Workshop in Multi-Camera Performance Production, some students will arrange lights, while others will use flags and scrims to optimize the light. John says the new light kits will help students make documentaries, as well as indie narratives.

This summer John worked with Telecom professors and UITS to improve the production functionality of RTV 250. They purchased licenses for the video game engine Unity 3; a very expensive buy, but wholly necessary to stay current in game development. Game engines are the static (yet malleable) building blocks for games, establishing basics like physics, lighting, and textures. Unity goes even further, offering enough ready-made coding to bring the process of creating a game much closer to the fun (and, more importantly, “ease”) of playing a game. It is software like this that helps researchers make their own experimental treatments. It’s also a great set of training wheels for burgeoning designers, most of whom – even and especially in big, multi-million dollar studios – will use engines for the rest of their lives. Asking an M.S. student to create a game without an existent engine is akin to having an M.A. student build a typewriter to complete a term paper. In other words, this license acquisition is a glorious addition for our gaming-minded grads.

RTV 250 also got a much more tangible upgrade: a rearrangement of desks that eschews a lecture-style layout in favor of a setting conducive for group learning. The old setup was standard fare, with rows of desks facing the main projector. Anyone who has used a computer for more than checking email can tell you that learning about interactive media is a socially interactive affair. Often students learn as much from their classmates as from the teacher. Now, a four-pod desk sits up front, while most of the other desks are pressed against the walls.  That creates a roundtable-style classroom. John worked with Professor Ted Castronova and UITS to conceptualize and implement this new design. There will also be a large table for more organized collaboration. It will over the holiday break. The room is now easier for teachers too, John explained, because the new design permits a panopticon-esque method of observation and moderation. “It’s better for everyone,” John said.

Looking forward, John said he wants to look into acquiring a multiplexer. A multiplexer replaces the old-school wall of televisions with one massive screen that can be customized to fit displays for particular shows. “It empowers students,” John said. “Instructors can teach them to design their optimal layout. This is something they will all encounter when they enter the field. It isn’t uncommon for a production assistant to carry around their customized layouts as a file in their pocket, to have with them for implementation wherever they go.”

John would like to remind people that the Telecom production equipment is for the benefit of all students of production – even researchers, even amateurs, and even those who do not belong to the department. “Overall, there are more and more students that are interested in making films,” John said. “The goal is to get the gear into the hands of as many of those students as possible. The production equipment is available to all IU students, regardless of their major.” Of course, priority is given to students enrolled in Telecom production classes; it’s best to request equipment at either the beginning or the end of the semester, or even over the summer, especially for long-term projects. “Anything is up for use,” John said. This includes production spaces like Studio 5, as well.

If you have any desire to work on your own drama, soundtrack, or first-person shooter, talk to John. Anyway, all request forms for use of production facilities and equipment get sent to him. Talk to him about what your project needs – you might find that professional-level production isn’t too hard, after all! You can find out more about the production lab and its facilities, equipment, and people by clicking here.

Lessons in Production

by Teresa Lynch

Oftentimes graduate students in our department find themselves sharing Associate Instructor (AI) responsibilities.  T101, T205, T206 are just some of the courses where multiple AIs have to work together, but mostly independently.  T283 is a bit different.  It’s a production course where Telecom undergrads have the first opportunity to get hands on experience with equipment.  Correspondingly, it also offers the assigned AIs the opportunity to work with undergrads – who have just acquired the basic skill set – in flexing their creative and technical muscles.

The course is divided into two portions – studio and field production.   Half of the students (and their corresponding AIs) begin work in Studio 5 where they hone their skills in performing live shots and learn to work with an intimidating array of expensive equipment.  The other half begin fieldwork, where AI Steve Burns says “there is personal responsibility to take care of your business outside of class and really want to do it in your free time almost because you really love doing it.”  After about halfway through the semester, the groups switch.

T283 is instructed by John Walsh and the AIs this semester are Garrett Poortinga, Brian Steward, Ted Jamison-Koenig, and Steve Burns, who all have a range of different work experiences to draw on.  They focus on teaching a specific skill set in each lab session.  For instance, you might remember last week’s post about Ted’s audio specialty.  John says that outside of their formal weekly meetings, there is a good bit of interaction between the AIs in terms of collaboration.  “The AIs from one lab will help another, we’ve gotten to know each other and know everyone’s skill set and strengths …  Even when we just are switching between the five week segments of field production and those in the studio, there’s a natural interplay.  It sort of happens organically.”

One of the most rewarding (or perhaps frustrating, humorous, and surprising) things about T283 AI work is helping students create pieces, which they could add to their portfolios.  Garrett says that guiding his students through the process of “developing a concept, producing it and delivering it” is something he really enjoys about teaching in a creative lab, as it gives him the opportunity to share his creative experience, but also see how “they’re going to branch out in terms of their creative passions.”

Students working in Studio 5 for T283. Photo by Garrett J. Poortinga

In his last studio project, many of his students pitched similar ideas that were narrowed down to three different projects: an original music video, a mock-umentary featuring the “foreign director” of the music video the first group created, and an improv game show.  Garrett feels particularly suited for helping his students because he did his undergraduate work here and is well-versed in the intricacies of the studios, the equipment, and the logistics of being a student.

Bryan discussed the difficulties of having individuals come in with unworkable ideas.  His favorite?  “Body part scavenger hunt – which involved a headless, armless, legless torso who went around campus finding his different body parts.  So then you ask the question, ‘well, how are you going to do that?’ and they draw a blank because they haven’t thought out that far, they just think it’s a cool idea.”  Within the scope of the class, certain projects aren’t workable, but as Bryan explains, that’s just part of the process of learning how to produce.  One of the workable ideas that his group had was a remake of the viral Internet music video, “Gangnam Style.”  Bryan credits a remake video of “Call Me Maybe” done by a section of students led by previous T283 AI Matt Falk as his students’ inspiration for their project.  He says in the end, the students did a great job coming together and he was happy to see one semester’s students building off what a previous semester had accomplished.

Ted’s challenge this semester was to sort out which of the twelve pitched projects to undertake because each of his students’ ideas was workable and creative.  The first screening of the studio projects was a remake of “My Strange Addiction” where the students featured a man married to a blowup doll – a doll whose ultimate fate would be to get rolled over on and popped.  Ted’s primary interest and area of expertise is in audio production, but he has sincerely enjoyed the opportunity to work with students in their areas of interest.  Often, fostering those interests works to help him hone his teaching skills and help the students discover their strengths.  One of his students in particular wowed the rest of the class with his acting abilities.

Students on set in Studio 5. Photo by Garrett J. Poortinga

Over a number of semesters, Steve Burns has seen undergraduates come and go through T283 where they’re given the opportunity to build the foundations for their portfolios.  Overall, he says that the students usually come in very much the same.  “You get a lot of the same pitches year after year … There’s a lot of recycled ideas, but it’s part of the process.”  Still, Steve says it’s an excellent opportunity for students because “you have to go put a lot of time and effort into something for it not to turn out looking like your favorite movie.  And realize how do I get there and see who’s doing well and how do I line up with [them].”  That experience for Steve has been the most rewarding – helping him to strengthen teaching skills and work with students through difficulties he himself has experienced.

On his part, John sees his talented and hard working AIs building a legacy for the course.  He notes that “not only are there different production backgrounds, but everybody has a range of production experience.  Some of it real world experience, some of it extended experience within an educational venue.  I believe that as we go forward to establish a framework for T283, which these guys have contributed a lot to, as the folks did last semester, it will be easier for graduate students of varying backgrounds to come and participate because we’ll have a framework in place to guide them.  So even graduate students who have a very limited amount of experience in production will be able to participate based on the contributions of these guys.”

The T283 Team, Ryland’s Stats Search, Russell’s Thesis (Teaser), The Ted, Brown Bag

The T283 Team, by Mike Lang

Collaboration and fluidity dominates modern media work. A team of workers comes together for a project, only to disband again when it ends. Sure, packs of people may move together from project to project—just read through the credit rolls from Christopher Nolan’s films to identify some repeat offenders—but rarely does an entire team reassemble for another project down the road.  Yet, despite the temporary nature of the work, in those grueling hours of the dreaded crunch, in the moments of hilarity and inspiration, in the moments of conflict and aggression, and even in the moments of absolute and total boredom, media workers form relationships with roots so deep they sustain for a lifetime.  For Shannon Schenck, Matt Falk, Brian Steward, and Sophie Parkison, the associate instructors for T283: Introduction to Production Techniques and Practice the reality of media work holds true for work as an AI.

The conference room feels like the principal’s office Brian jokes. “I feel like I’m about to get scolded.” The beige walls and lack of windows certainly don’t produce a warm fuzzy feeling, but a good-natured vibe pervades none the less. With these four plus T283 crew chief John Walsh, location doesn’t matter that much. They can make anything fun. I’m fortunate because we have managed to find a time when everyone can meet. Anybody who has ever tried to schedule/reschedule an event with a group of graduate students and faculty members knows how difficult this can be. As an MA student I rarely interact with the production side of the department, so I’m excited to finally pull back the curtain and see what actually goes on. “This better be good” jokes Matt, “This is the only reason I put on pants today.”

T283 is a hands-on production course that gives students opportunities to work with the equipment and software they will be using in the field, in environments that simulate real-life working conditions.  As Sophie notes, T283 acts as a sampler, exposing students to the range of jobs one would encounter in a real studio or in real projects.  T283 features two parts. Every Monday from 2:30-3:45 the 90 or so students roll into the lecture portion of the class led by John Walsh. Composed mostly of second semester sophomores and juniors, T283 is a make or break class for students hoping to continue along the production trajectory, and as a result, it features a lengthy waiting list and a number of students who have waited semesters to get in. In addition to the lecture, students must attend a four hour lab led by one of the AIs.  Each of the eight sections contains 10-14 students. While older iterations of T283 were broadcast production oriented and featured eight weeks of studio work, and eight weeks of work in the field, John Walsh and Ron Osgood have introduced  new elements to the course. In addition to studio and field, there is a section of new media. With Photoshop and Dreamweaver skills acquired in the course , at the end of the semester students should be able to put together a professional online portfolio that features the work they have done in both the studio and the field.

Because the bulk of the class takes place in the lab, the success or failure of the course largely rides on the AIs. Each lab has a distinct personality, according to Brian, and figuring out how to work with those different dynamics is a big part of the job. As Matt says, the AIs have to play the role of executive producer. They have to put everyone in the best position to succeed, and that can’t happen if the AIs don’t know the students. You have to know what makes them tick, what is going on in their lives, and what is their personality because it is all going to come up in their work.  But then, with such small classes, and four hours of face time in the lab, “you’re going to learn them really fast,” says Shannon. Because of the structure of the course, the relationship between AI and student extends much further than that of the typical instructor-student relationship. As Shannon says, because the AIs invest so much in their students, their students invest back in them. They come to the AIs to talk about life, classes, projects outside of class, equipment, and everything in between. It creates a different dynamic in the classroom. The students really value what you think.   Matt says the system builds trust. “Other students see us laughing and joking back and forth, which encourages them to open up to us.” Beyond grading and giving feedback, the AIs have to foster a sense of collaboration and creativity that encourages students to really engage and think.

The beauty of the course lies in the subtleties. While the course covers all of the basics, the difference between average and exceptional can sometimes amount to half a second.  For Brian, the moments students learn these subtleties are light bulb moments.  He says one should not tell students what to do but to let them attain realizations on their own. In one instance, one of Brian’s students was directing a scene.  Instead of watching the monitors as the scene played out, the student had his head buried in the script, calling out camera changes based on the dialogue. After a few poor takes, Brian walked up, and took the script out of his hand and told them to roll again. As soon as the take started, the light bulb clicked on and the student understood immediately why watching the monitors is so important.  In the span of five minutes, the student recorded the best take of the day, and gained a whole new confidence in one of the most intimidating positions in the studio. In a sense the course is an exercise in building confidence, and for the AIs nothing beats a student who comes in nervous and afraid and leaves bustling with energy and self-assurance. As Brian notes, sometimes you might suggest an idea to a student who will muster up the courage to say, “I think I’m going to stick with my idea and see how it goes,” and when it turns out better than the suggestion, you know they are really getting it.

The AIs work as a team and rely on each other like family. As John notes, every member of the AI team possesses a different yet complimentary set of skills and experiences: Shannon’s handiwork with the camera, knowledge of the production lab, and background in teaching screen writing; Matt’s masterful command of audio, and experience as a documentary filmmaker; Brian’s background in the industry (if you haven’t check out Brian’s IMDB page yet, make it happen);  Sophie’s knowledge of story and development and her extensive experience with Studio 5 and IU in general. As such, the AIs lean on each other in various circumstances. Matt is a common fixture in labs that aren’t his own—talking about the soundboard and sharing his extensive audio knowledge. Brian may come over to students working in field to demonstrate techniques or share his own experiences. Since Brian hadn’t set foot in studio 5 since the first Reagan administration (when he was an undergrad), he relied on his fellow AIs to show him everything in the studio. They even taught him how to use Final Cut. They also lean on each other when it comes to dealing with students. The boundaries which separate one AI’s students from another are very porous. They constantly field questions and review work from students in other labs, especially if they are hanging around the production lab. “You have to be careful” says Sophie. “If you go in, you might not come out.”

The team is in constant contact over email, at their weekly meetings on Monday, and as they cross paths between labs. They share strategies, discuss what went well, and ways to make things better. Most importantly, they encourage one another. “It’s almost like we’re soldiers together” says Shannon, and they certainly share that camaraderie.  Brian and his wife Elizabeth are expecting expecting in April, yet the team has already devised a contingency plan in the event the baby is early, late, or on time. They take care of one another and even though they are providing their students with a real media work experience, they are also getting one themselves. “This is how you feel about a crew when you work with a crew” says John. “Its our semi-permanent work group!” jokes Sophie.

Each semester is different. AI teams come and go, group dynamics change, and new concepts are taught, but T283 continues to offer students an experience of media work that reflects the real world, and without the exceptional work of the AIs, none of that is possible, a fact not lost on the students. At the end of the fall semester Brian surprised his lab with pizza. As his wife Elizabeth walked into the studio with the stack of boxes, the students had a surprise of their own. Knowing the newlyweds were expecting, the students had pooled their money together to purchase a gift of their own. From a pile of baby clothes, one of the students pulled out a tiny onesie that read “Daddy’s Little Sweetheart.” That just doesn’t happen elsewhere.

John Walsh frequently refers to his AI team as superheroes. After my conversation with them, it is easy to see how important they are to the success of our program.

Ryland’s Stats Search, by Mike Lang

Ryland Sherman, first-year Ph.D. student, has plenty of experience with statistics. While this author humbly admits a lack of in-depth knowledge in statistics, it’s still safe to say that “proof-based multivariate calculus” sounds daunting—and, in the very first class of Ryland’s undergrad career, proficiency in it was expected before walking through the door. When in law school, he took a business class: Spreadsheet Modeling in Finance, a synthesis of “multivariate calculus, economics, finance and inter-temporal math, and statistics.” Ryland earned an “A,” impressive not only because of the material, but also because the bar for that top grade was set at ninety-six percent. The point is, simply, that one Ryland Sherman is no slouch when it comes to statistics. A self-proclaimed guru in Excel, he also knows most of those acronym-named stats programs that begin with the letter “S.” Then, he met a new letter of the alphabet, R—“the Linux of stats,” according to Ryland—and the experience has caused him to give pause when considering his next methods class.

Most Telecom students take applied stats courses, often in the psychology department. Ryland, however, decided to go to the Department of Statistics to attain a more abstract, fundamental grasp of statistics. The students in the S501: Statistical Methods I were asked to vote for the program of choice and they chose R. Though he prefers Excel, “ultimately, R is more robust,” Ryland explained. “It’s able to run these packages that were created by statisticians on this freeware, shared among people who must be advancing their careers by writing open-source R code to do cutting-edge statistical stuff. That’s why stats majors love R—but stats majors have computer programming backgrounds, apparently.” R is not for first-time programmers; it has a reputation for being clunky and sometimes outright counterintuitive. Nicky Lewis, another member of our cohort, took the class previously and did well—but she had a background in HTML programming. “Right off the bat, we were expected to be able to learn new programming languages and run loops,” Ryland said. Instead the course material ran loops around him.

“I have a love-hate relationship with R,” Ryland confessed. “She’s a rough mistress, hard to read and hard to understand. Occasionally, I was able to reach a mutually agreeable outcome—often at three or four in the morning, long after I thought I would be done.” As with most relationships, it was difficult to see the issues before diving into it. Without any background in programming, it became difficult for Ryland to learn the stats-related lessons of the course. “Programming is a world of trial and error,” Ryland said, “where you spend most of your time fixing a problem you didn’t see was there. That’s not a way to learn stats.”

“While I think everybody needs to know basic stats and be able to draw from that toolkit, I think that there are lots of areas of equations and models that can be pulled from areas other than the statistics program,” Ryland said. “On some level, I’m happy that R slapped me around a bit, because it’s made me think more outside the box.” Forced to pick a new minor, he is considering economics, sociology, and informatics. Regardless of which department he chooses, from now on, statistics will be less of an abstract affair. “Stats does not exist independent of the way it is used. The reason why so many people in our program have taken stats in psychology is that stats is taught in the context of psychological methods … putting stats in context is much more valuable. The statistical methods utilized by people coming out of psychology stats are as sophisticated as anything else and are a much better, custom fit to their applications.”

Russell’s Thesis, by Ken Rosenberg

Russell McGee and Brad Cho, both second-semester master’s students and experienced filmmakers, are going to collaborate on a project of thesis-level proportions. Cinema 67 (working title) is a postmodern coming-of-age movie that deals with intolerance of homosexuality in a small rural town. Some of the more lighthearted elements, like a prank involving cotton candy dye, are loosely derived from Russell’s past experiences working at a drive-in theater. Brad has been commissioned as the director of cinematography.  This project will be a fresh and exciting undertaking for Brad, as his past experience has mainly been with documentaries. With the script complete and a tentative schedule in place, they are in the process of finalizing the cast and building sets—shooting will begin over the summer. If you want to provide encouragement—or maybe a headshot, depending on your intended career trajectory—feel free to stop them in the hall for a quick chat about their work. Stay tuned for further updates!

Random Photo of the Week: The Ted

Ted Jamison-Koenig's new vanity plate finally offers the department a way to distinguish between the student and the professor in casual conversation.

Brown Bag

We are all kinda here: Collaborating in virtual and analog environments

Mark Bell

Over the past few months, I have been assisting Dr. Anne Massey (Dean’s Research Professor & Professor of Information Systems) and a team of researchers with a National Science Foundation Grant. This grant studies collaborative virtual presence (CVP) in collaborative virtual environments (CVE), such as Second Life. Using a range of measurements (SL activity, eye tracking and physiological) and researchers from a number of areas (Telecommunications, Information Systems, HPER) this project is, in itself, a collaborative effort that synchronously captures three streams of data.  I will give an overview of the project, its goals and the part I am playing.

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Reconceptualizing Gatekeeping in Multimodal Contexts: The Case of Italian Radiovision RTL 102.5

Asta Zelenkauskaite

A change is occurring in media production and consumption in mass media contexts that affects the gatekeeping process of content selection: User-generated content (UGC) is increasingly being incorporated into programming. This research asks: What are the differences between attitudes and practices with regards to UGC integration in mass media programming, and what are the actual audience participation patterns? To address these questions, gatekeeping theory is applied to a case study of an interactive multimedia setting — a leading Italian radio-television-web station, station RTL 102.5. Through interviews with media producers and content analysis, this study analyzed two types of UGC:  SMS messages and Facebook messages.

Bios:

Mark Bell is a PhD candidate at Indiana University in the Department of Telecommunications. His past research has focused on virtual words but more recent work focuses on deception in computer mediated environments. He is interested in digital deception detection, group information verification, digital image and video manipulation and online identity manipulation.

Asta Zelenkauskaite is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University. Her research interests include Computer-Mediated Communication, and Social Media. She researched user-generated content mediated by TV such as Facebook messages and mobile texting; user participation pattertns in online environment – online Internet Relay Chat; collaboratevely analyzed knowledge depositories such as Wikipedia and user interaction patterns in an online massively multiplayer game BZFlag.

 The audio from last Friday’s seminar: Brown bag 6 (Feb. 24, 2012 – Asta and Mark)